Friday, September 30, 2016

Write What You Know

Slow Down, Dammit. Slow Down!

Last weekend, I did a very stupid thing.

Previous to last weekend, I’d done well in an online contest wherein authors were encouraged to post a query letter and the first 250 words of an unpublished novel. I entered hoping to get something out of it, but never dreaming I’d come out of it with requests from two traditional publication editors to receive my work.

Here’s where the stupid thing came in:

I sent them the wrong version of my story.

How is that possible?

Well, I’ve only got fifteen versions of my story – revisions, actually – on my computer. And in my excitement at doing well in the contest, I dug into a folder I’d used for a previous submission and sent the requested files off electronically.

Then the day after, as I was re-reading old blog posts, I realized I’d sent the wrong version when I stumbled across a new introductory chapter. That I had *not* sent.


So that night I leapt into action like a cheetah on a trampoline.

I re-sent the files, explaining my mistake. And hoped for the best.

And I’m still hoping. It can take editors up to three months to swim through queries, even those they requested. So I’ll have to stew in my own juices for the next few weeks or months to see if my attempt at rectifying the mistake paid off, and if my work meets muster.

Still, I feel rather stupid. And it’s humbling. Kinda know how the coyote feels after he gets blowed up:

After the anxiety wore off, I began a-thinking: What can I learn from this, aside from fixing my filing system?

First of all, slow down.

I heard about the contest at the last minute. I panicked to get an entry in – and used an older version of my story as the entry.

I’m reminded of something President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said recently: 

When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be.

One of the characteristics of modern life seems to be that we are moving at an ever-increasing rate, regardless of turbulence or obstacles.

Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.

Entering the contest was a complication. I rushed it. I’m still glad I did it – I would not have two requests for manuscripts otherwise – but slowing down even by a matter of minutes would have likely made my resubmit not necessary.

I thought I was right – but I was not. And I should have known it, since I’d made great pains earlier this year in re-writing that manuscript, including a more riveting opening chapter.

I Muschged myself.

I’ll let Thomas Plummer explain:

When I was in graduate school, I took a seminar on Heinrich von Kleist from Bernhard Blume, one of the grand ole men of German scholarship. One day we were to discuss a paper by a classmate, ken Tigar, on Keleist’s play, Der zerbrochene Krug. The paper seemed sound enough to the rest of us. Tigar’s argument was based on a description written by Professor Walter Muschg, the great Kleist scholar at the University of Basel, of a plate with figures engraved on it. Professor Blume came to class with a large volume under his arm. He opened it to a picture of the plate that Muschg had described and passed it around.

"Well,” he asked, “what do you see?"

No one saw anything.

"Does the woman look pregnant to you ?” he asked.

Ken’s face blanched.

Professor Blume continued, “No, but Muschg says she is pregnant, and Mr. Tigar’s paper rests on that premise.”

Ken stammered, “I just through Muschg would be right."

Professor Blume shut the took and said, “Let that be a lesson to you. Never trust anyone. You must examine the source yourself."

I should from now on follow Blume’s advice. I should have known when I submitted my entry that I was using an older manuscript – one that had been rejected by a publisher and one I had spent at least four months revising.

Next time, I will question what I’m doing. I’ll slow down for those precious minutes.
Maybe nothing will come of my error. I hope something comes of my attempt to fix it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Information-Free News!

This article is a little noodle-scratcher.

It’s supposed to be a news story. But it appears to be devoid of actual news.

Let me tell you’ I’ve been there. Spent ten years as a journalist covering small-town news. Spent a lot – and I mean a LOT – of time listening to city council deliberations, which should be filed under cruel and unusual punishment. And I’m sure if I went through the tons of articles I shoveled out, I could probably find a few nearly as information-free as this one. So I’m the pot calling the kettle black.

Still, damn.

So. The council wants to change the enforcement part of its nuisance ordinance. What those changes might be, well, that’s left to the imagination.

I get that there’s no draft. I get that there’s not even a deadline set to have a draft of what might be changed.

But news articles are meant to inform, not be vignettes of moments in time at a city council meeting. I want that, I’ll do this:

And I understand the journalist’s pain.

City Council don’t wanna say anything because the journalist is going to write it down and print it, and we all know what happens then:

"In my experience Miss Crisplock tends to write down exactly what one says," Vetinari observed. "It's a terrible thing when journalists do that. It spoils the fun. One feels instinctively that it's cheating somehow."

Same for the city employee. One word gets out to the public and KABOOM. What’s said becomes the OFFICIAL PUBLIC WORD ® and NOBODY – REPEAT NOBODY – will believe anything otherwise, even if angels descend from the clouds with a new version of the nuisance ordinance. So since there’s nothing of substance to write about, clearly this should be a news brief.

But . . .

The journalist writes an information-free article with a chiche in the headline. And dammit if he’s not going to get a byline. He sat in that city council meeting for HOURS. 

And an editor saw it, and it was good.

And the world goes on spinning because there’s another newspaper to FILL FILL FILL.

Again, can’t say I miss the newspaper business at all.

NOTE: I’m not saying every journalist out there does this. Frequently. But every journalist out there has done an article or two like this. And if they tell you otherwise . . .

City of Ammon, Dig A Little Deeper

While I’m happy to hear that improvements are coming quickly to the intersection of Hitt Road and 17th Street, I have some concerns with the project’s apparent lack of support by the City of Ammon.
How can I say the city isn’t supporting the project when the city has committed $1 million to it? Well, this little snippet from the PostRegister tells me something:

(Apologies if you can’t read the link; sometimes they’re free, sometimes they’re not.)

The northern, western and southern legs of the intersection will be expanded to include two through lanes, two dedicated left turn lanes and one dedicated right turn lane each. There will be fewer improvements to the eastern leg of the intersection in Ammon.

Now, maybe the lack of improvements on the Ammon leg have to do with property acquisition. Or maybe the lack of improvements on the Ammon leg have to do with the City of Ammon not putting enough money into the project.

I don’t have enough information to answer either question. Perhaps those in the know can shed a bit of light on the situation.

I just know as a regular user of both this intersection and the intersection at Hitt and Sunnyside, it’s the intersection at Hitt and Sunnyside I prefer – because it has the two-two-one configuration that three legs of the Hitt/17th intersection will have.

And while the improvements planned at Hitt and 17th are sorely needed and will make using that intersection much easier, I have to wonder why the Ammon leg is being left out.

City of Ammon, can we get an answer?

My question has less to do with the typical sniping between the cities and city residents over the perception/reality that Ammon pays less than its fair share for improvements on Hitt Road. As the Post Register points out, the road is the dividing line between the city – but Idaho Falls lays claim to the road itself. If Idaho Falls residents have complaints about how costs are divided along the road, perhaps they ought to ask their own city council about this arrangement.

As a resident of the city of Ammon, however, and as a regular user of Hitt between 17th and Sunnyside, I’d really like the intersection at Hitt and 17th to match what’s been done at Hitt and Sunnyside. The reality is, petty squabbling aside, this intersection needs improvements on all four legs.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2016 Goals Revisited

So. I wrote this back in January.

How am I doing on these so-called 2016 goals?
  1. Publish Doleful Creatures one way or another. Well, it’s been rejected by Shadow Mountain, But I’ve submitted it (just this week) to two other publishers thanks to #sonofapiatch. I’m not going to be published this year. But I’m working on it.
  2. Edit the Hermit of Iapetus. Hahaha. Not happening. But that’s mostly because of No. 1.
  3. Prep for NaNoWriMo. Maybe. I’ve got a few ideas that could go somewhere. It would be good to have another something else in the hopper. But No. 1 still looms large. I’ve already got a few other somethings in the hopper. But a writer writes. Always.
  4. Write a poem or short story a week. Nope. Thanks to Erin on Facebook, however, I’ve done a few writing prompts that could lead to something for No. 3.
  5. Files for the BYU-Idaho classes. Did that. Then they changed the curriculum and I’m back to square one, and feeling pretty helpless.
A mixed bag, at best. But importantly: The bag is NOT empty.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Doleful Creatures: To the Editors!

So, it's done.

Two requests. Which is two more than I expected to get out of this. And they're in the editors' hands. Who knows what will come of it? The eternal pessimist in me says nothing, as I know the book is light years from the looks of Mel Gibson. But maybe one of these nice ladies will see something in Doleful Creatures that I don't.

One can hope.

The Bells of Hell . . .

So. Maybe I found a new song for the Hermit of Iapetus to sing. And, good news, it's in the public domain!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Piratey Nonsense

Writing prompt for 9/19/16


It's a bit too early for visitors, but you figure if someone is ringing your doorbell at 5:45, a full 15 minutes before your alarm usually goes off, it's probably important. You stumble to your front door, pajamas askew. A man is there, standing behind what you can only describe as a Chest. The man is bearded, swarthy and he has an actual, honest to goodness eyepatch. "This be for ye," he says, nodding seriously, before turning and tromping down your stairs and off into the world. 

The dachshunds, of course, went nuts.

They were sure it was the squirrel ringing the doorbell. So sure, in fact, they darted to the back door and howled to be let out so they could get the squirrel – forgetting, of course, that the doorbell button is on the front of the house.

But I let them out. Better to have the whole neighborhood awake at a quarter to six on a Saturday than to have that doggy din making my ears ring.

The doorbell rang again – but I am not its servant.

Through the frosted glass of the side-window, I could see a shape – a massive shape – waiting impatiently on the front porch, or so I judged by its swaying. Beyond the shape, beyond the grass and still-running sprinklers, an immense dark car at the curb.

The churl leaned on the doorbell button. I wrenched the door open.
“Ah, finally! This be for ye!”

“Ben? What the hell?”

The pirate on the porch – no other way to describe the swarthy, bearded man with the eye patch and leather jerkin – maintained a smile. “If ye were expecting Ben, methinks ye’ll be disappointed. My name, it be Solomon. But no never mind,” he said, sniffing in great breaths of the cool morning air. “I’ve done me duty, brought you this chest, and now I’m off. Off again to the seven seas!”

He looked me in the eye, then dropped his momentarily, winking. I looked at his feet – well, a foot and a peg – to see a small chest lying on the welcome mat. He turned and step-thumped down the concrete sidewalk to the vehicle rumbling at the curb. With an enormous squeal he shut the trunk.

“Dammit Be –“ I stepped forward and stubbed my toe on the chest.

“Ah, that takes me back. Makes me miss me mateys, hearing ye use them sailors’ words,” Solomon said. “These days, nobody curses proper. It’s like Old Jack, he said – ah, Old Jack. Last I saw him, t’were in Victoria, slumped on a stool at the Post and Patch. Probably still there. Though last time I saw the Post and Patch, t’were a McDonalds.” Solomon chuckled. “If he still be there, he be drinking Coca-Cola and be sated with French fries.”

I bounced and cursed out to the curb as Solomon, watching, leaned against the car – burgundy-colored, dripping with chrome and with great square tail lights.

“And ‘tis a fair jig ye do there, though I’m not familiar with the tune.” His smile revealed gold teeth. His eyes suddenly widened. He tapped the side of his nose with one hand and with the other reached inside his jerkin. “Forget me own head next,” he said, pulling his hand out and proffering a key. “Ye’ll be needing this.”

When I didn’t reach out for the key, the man smiled wider. “Old Jack warned me, he did,” Solomon said. “’Cold and unfriendly he be, but fulfill yer duty, Solomon me lad. No difference if he be cold as a fish when ye deliver it. Duty be done, by God. Duty be done.’” He hung the key by its silver chain on a button on my pajamas, wrenched the door to the car open and squeaked onto the red leather seats. “’Tis a good thing it be me left leg that’s a peg, or driving this Cordoba would be much more difficult,” he shouted. “Robert Louis Stevenson, I calls it. Not much more difficult than rowing a dinghy, but much, much more comfortable. Bought it new, I did. Though it’s all cold metal. Not wooden, like in the old days.”

“How time passes,” he said, half to himself.

Then he leaned out of the car, from which I could hear country music playing from an 8-track. “It’s a terrible thing, waiting for time to pass, me lad. Why, I’ve waited for ye” – he prodded me in the chest with a blunt finger, attached to a hand disappearing into ruffled lace – “for nigh on two hundred years. That be a long time to be away from the sea. And a long time to be sober. That’s been the worse of it, the sobriety. But Old Jack insisted he did, and he be a hard man if crossed. And don’t think for a moment Old Jack – wherever he be, even if God rest his soul – ain’t been a-watching Solomon all these years, waiting for Solomon to fulfill the Duty. And now it be done. And I go in search of a drink to quench this two-hundred-year-old thirst.”

He slammed the door shut. “Any message for Old Jack?” he asked through the open window. “He’s waited even longer than I. Blest be his name if he still be alive to receive it. But --” he laughed “—I still live. Why not he?”

“Ben – ”

“Solomon,” he said. “Only know one Benjamin. Got himself marooned somewhere, last I heard. Deserved it too, by the last account. Probably went mad. So I can see why he might be a friend of yours. But back to OId Jack. He sent ye this gift. No kind words for the daft old man?”

“Um – ”

“Um it be, then,” Solomon said. “The cops, they’ll be coming back. Been following me ever since I got to town. Don’t like the looks of me, I suspect,” he laughed. “Not that anyone ever does.” He revved the engine. “This beast, I’ll miss,” he added. “Look smart!” I leaped back. With a whinny, the car lurched from the curb and bolted down the street, then turned east.

Away from the sea.

A thousand mile journey to the west.

Ben’s done some jokes, I thought, walking back to the house, toes throbbing. But this one. Well . . .

I got to the porch and stubbed my other toes on the chest.

Small. Neither dachshund barking in the back yard would have fit inside. Wood and leather and hammered iron. Just like in the movies. And, just like in the movies, a tiny lock holding it closed.

The key and the chain dropped from the front of my pajamas as I bent over.

I hefted the chest. Small, but heavy. And freshly-oiled, smelling of Stockholm tar and sea salt.

I shook my head. That’s stuff I read in books. I’ve never been to the ocean. And the tar – weren’t they fixing potholes on the next street over? Yes, that ‘s it.

I put the chest on the table, where it dribbled a little oil.

The dogs at the back – one black with a cut like a schnauzer, the other dapples black with brown and white spots – leaped at the door.

Underneath one of the straps, a folded bit of paper, sealed shut with a gob of red wax. Pressed into it, what looked like a backwards capital J.

Old wax. When I pulled the letter out, the wax crumbled, leaving flakes on the straps, flakes on the chest, and flakes I brushed off the paper onto the table.

The paper was oiled as well. Translucent. Covered with a filigree of words in turn covering other words, layered and faded, with swirling f’s where the esses should be.

The first word I could make out on the letter: Crenshaw.

My first name.

Passed on for generations. I hated it. I go by Ishmael, my middle name. Not much better, but certainly better than Crenshaw.

I read further, scratching my beard.

The clothes washer roared, set on a timer to start at 6 am; the water sloshed, slurping and bumping as if against the legs of a pier, jostling many boats. The dogs squealed at the back door. Squealed like seagulls.

I scratched my beard again.

But I have no beard. I hate them worse than I hate my first name.

Beards remind me of Ben.

When I looked up from the letter, it was at grey canvas sails fitfully flapping. At oiled ropes dangling from arms and pulleys, and white clouds scudding in a blue sky.

I scratched my beard again, and it had always been there.

There was a smell of burnt coffee and dead fish.

An elbow jostled me. “Better get to scrubbing!” The voice belonged to a suntanned youth, holding a bucket of water in one hand and a dripping brush in the other. He nodded at a bucket and brush by my feet. “Old Jack will be here soon, and you know him. ‘Everything clean! Everything ship-shape!’”

“I am not the brush’s servant,” I sneered.

“Tell that to the brush when Old Jack jams it in your mouth,” the youth said, laughing.

I laughed back, and the youth marched off, followed by two small long dogs, one a schnauzer-looking black, the other dappled black with brown and white spots. Both had earrings and wore blue-and-white striped bandanas. A seagull flew by low and the dogs howled, pursuing it.

A sudden roar went up from the crew, and I looked. They had rushed, to the man, to the pier-side of the boat and waved their arms, their hats, their head-bands, cheering. I joined them – a head and a half taller than most – to see Solomon waving his own hat to the men as he descended from a burgundy carriage pulled by six black whinnying horses. He caught my eye, smiled, and tapped the side of his nose.

I went back to the chest, perched on a barrel. I took the key, hanging from a button on my leather vest, and set it into the lock.